Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica— 18 Mars 34AF

Dear Journal,

I've done it! I've built a sky-boat big enough to carry a single person with full control. It is an odd design, mind you, and I may call it a sky-boat only by courtesy; it looks more like a cross between a sedan chair and a four-poster bed. It is not a thing of beauty, being knocked together out of rough scraps of wood, but it works!

At the bottom is a crate, not to put to fine a point on it, longer than it is wide, with the control levers built into one end and a seat at the other. Stout uprights rise from the four corners to above the rider's head, and support an arrangement of crossbars that correspond to the gunwales on my earlier models.

It is these crossbars that provide the lift; and since all of the weight hangs below them the craft is perfectly stable without any need for a vertical stabilizer. Or nearly; I suppose it may rock a bit in the wind, depending on how it is laden. We shall see. But it is easy to get into, at least when it is resting on the floor, and it seems stable enough.

I built it in Amelie's old bedroom (for we have moved into her father's room, it having the larger bed), having moved her bedstead and other furnishings into the store room. I could not build the sky-boat in the store room, it is too crowded already, and also far too cold this time of year to work in for any length of time; and my dearest Amelie forbid me to build any full-scale models in the parlor, for which I can hardly fault her.

The conveyance nearly fills the room; but if I climb into it and work the controls I am able to rise into the air, to make it turn in place through an entire circle, and to move into each corner. As such I regard it as a perfect success!

No doubt I will find other details that require attention when the weather warms up and I am able to build another in another locale; for in my haste and eagerness I neglected to consider that I should have to take it to pieces in order to remove it from the room in which it sits.

Had I been more foresighted, I might have been able to form it in such a way that it could be made to come apart. I say might, for it is the usual goal in things of this nature to form the desired object as a coherent whole. But with a bit of mechanical ingenuity (a skill most disdained by my esteemed father) it might be possible to form the lifting and control elements as a single body, and simply suspend a carrier from them.

I can see that I shall have to procure help from my neighbors if I wish to scale this up to something that will carry multiple people in safety; and at the very least I shall need to extend the house with a workroom—a workroom with large doors to the outside! And it shall have to be properly heated, by a fireplace or possible a wood stove, for Winter is by far the best time to devote to matters of this kind.

I feel quite extravagant pondering any such addition, but Amelie has agreed to it; and I shall not have use of the old bedroom for much longer, even if it were a convenient space, for my beloved has just informed me that we shall quite soon need it as a nursery!

I am so pleased I can hardly sit still. And shortly after spring has come and I can work outside, I shall rebuild my conveyance and pay a visit to the floating island to the north!

photo credit: Timothy Neesam (GumshoePhotos) PEI coastline via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 27 Fevrier 34AF

Dear journal,

After many, many trials, I now have a functioning working model of a sky-boat. It has taken longer than I hoped; the details in my grimoire are far sketchier than I had realized. All of the needed techniques are described adequately, but fitting them all together in one device is tricky.

But I have done it!

My model is far from lovely, with none of the attractive lines of the sky-yachts I saw at home in Yorke. It is a plain wooden box in appearance, about a foot long, with four-inch dowels stick up from the four corners. The tiller and other controls are inside, which is the reason for the dowels—I have too many models stuck to the ceiling already. With this one, I have a gap between the ceiling and the model's gunwale so that I can get my fingers inside to make adjustments.

Of course, the moment I enabled the model's lift it rose to the ceiling and got hung up on one of the rafters, the dowels rising up on either side of the rafter. The width of the rafter blocked my hands, and quite prevented me from reaching the lifting bar. Still, all was not lost! I had just room to get a grip on the gunwales on either side, and then I could use my weight to pull the model down far enough to adjust the lift to something more reasonable. I gather from Amelie's titters that I looked quite comical dangling from the model and drifting from around the room as I tried to get it under control. I must say, I am impressed at how much lift even a small model can generate!

After that, though, I found that I was able to adjust the model to hold position anywhere in the room, and I was able to set its speed and direction and watch it glide slowly from one end of the room to the other. I had great fun loading it up with nails and bars of soap to show that it could carry a load.

The hardest part of the whole thing has been the forming of the stabilizer. The boat lifts from its gunwales, and being of shallow draft has a tendency to flip over onto its belly if it is loaded too high. This is not much of a concern for the larger sky-ships, but is a considerable issue for a small boat intended to carry individuals. The stabilizer solves the problem, but has two defects, for my purposes. First, it is the single most difficult thing to form. I don't know why that should be, but it is. Second, it takes up too much room! It goes right in the center of the boat, and extends vertically from about the level of the gunwales to about a full hull-height below the hull.

This will be less of a problem in a full-sized sky-boat, but still vastly inconvenient, especially when it comes time to ground it. I should much rather have a nice flat bottom for it to rest on! I suppose I could add grounding legs…but I shall have to ponder.

photo credit: Me in ME Rowboat via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 5 Fevrier 34 AF

Dear Journal,

Today was a surprise. Now that I live with Amelie in the village, Onc' Herbert has of course needed to send others to the village in the cart to get supplies—in the sleigh, rather, at this time of year. And today he sent Marc and Elise.

It was a fine winter morning. We have had no new snow for a week, nor any clouds, so the air was bright and cold. We can't see that from within the shop, of course, being buried up to the eaves, so Amelie and I stepped out for a few minutes to walk to the church and then up into the open air to enjoy the sunshine.

When the weather is clear for days on end, the young lads of the village make benches and settees and chairs out of snow on the green before the church—just where the trestles are set out on a Sunday afternoon in the warmer part of the year, but on a level with the eaves of the church. And then their elders go out with blankets on fine days and sit on the them, and that is what we did, with a thick rug of grand-blaireau fur beneath us, and another wrapped around us, only our eyes peeking out.

It is a grand prospect, sitting there. The village is on rising ground, built around the green with our shop at the lower end and the church at the upper end. We could see the roof and chimneys of our shop poking through the snow, and just the cross stroke of the "T" in Tuppenny on the sign—for further snows had obscured it after I put it up afresh. We could see the steam from the hot springs curling up from the grottos off to our right. And there, not quite so far to the right, lies the road out to Onc' Herbert's farm. One can't see the whole road, for it is obscured by trees here and there, but it had been travelled enough since the last snow that the one could easily make out the line of it.

Amelie saw the sleigh first. "It is your friends," she said. "For is that not the sleigh of Herbert de Néant?"

"How can you tell?"

She shrugged under the blanket. "You will see. O! And it is Marc and Elise Frontenac, for I see her red cap. They will stop at our shop, so we must be ready."

She was wrong—but only because Marc saw us gathering up our furs and drove the sleigh straight up the green—something one would never do in summer.

"All is quiet on the farm," he said, "and so Onc' Herbert has given us leave to come to dinner!"

"But do not fear," said Elise, clambering out the sleigh and embracing Amelie. "For we come bringing gifts!" And so they had, cheese, and fine sausage of goat meat, and so I had my revenge on the goats at last.

I shall always remember that dinner, which began with much laughter in the kitchen as Elise and Amelie prepared the meal and ended many hours later when, the sun approaching the horizon, we bundled the Frontenacs back into their sleigh for the mule to take home. I hope it is but the first of many like it.

It wasn't until later, as we were preparing for bed, that it occurred to me that Amelie and Elise had greeted each other as old friends. And then it occurred to me that they are of an age, and that the women of the village have their afternoons in the hot springs just as the men do, and it was with an even stronger sense of having been managed—and no little satisfaction—that I put the hot stones into the foot of the bed and climbed in beside my beloved wife. I am lucky to have such friends.

photo credit: davebloggs007 Lake Louise along the trails via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 15 Janvier 34 AF

Dear Journal,

Amelie's father has passed. He died in the night, in his bed, with Amelie by his side.

It was not a surprise, not for any of us. He had been growing weaker by the day, and for the past week I have had to carry him to his seat by the fire each morning. He wanted to be there, where he could see us. He did not speak during his last days, but I think….I think he was no longer worried about Amelie, or about me, for he smiled at me when I laid him in his bed yesternight.

I was making tea when Amelie called my name, and hurried into his room. She was holding his hand, but the light had gone from his eyes. We sat there until dawn; then I went to tell the Tremblay's, and fetch help.

He cannot be buried this time of year, of course; the snow lies deep over the graveyard behind the little church. But there is a grotto nearby where he may lie safe and dry in his coffin until spring comes, and then he shall be laid to rest. It is bittersweet to think that the same priest who blesses our marriage will also bless his grave, and likely on the same day.

We carried him to the grotto, I and five other men of the village, attended by Amelie and the rest of those living close by; and then we returned home and sat by the fire in our chairs.

I was staring at the little models of wood dotting the ceiling, staring but not seeing them for thoughts of my father-in-law, when Amelie said, "Tomorrow you must take down the sign."

I'm afraid I looked blankly at her, for she repeated, "The sign. Tomorrow you must take it down, for it is not right. Our name, it is Tuppenny. It would have been wrong to change it while mon pere was still with us, but now it must be changed. And with the snow to the eaves, zut alors! When shall it be so easy to get at? So you must bring it in, and I shall repaint it while you work on your models." And she nodded so decisively that it did not occur to me until much later to question whether the other villagers would see it as she did. But if I cannot trust my Amelie to know these things, I am lost. Tomorrow I shall bring in the sign; and then I shall continue to work on the control problem for my little models; and so it will be until the snows melt.

photo credit: mikecogh Basic Coffin Type 1 via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica—5 Janvier 34AF

Dear Journal,

It has been a busy and mostly delightful month, learning how to be a proper husband to Amelie, and how to prepare for an Armorican winter; and now the snows have come and stayed, and the deep cold has set in.

It is unlike anything I have ever seen. It snows in Yorke, certainly, and in the surrounding countryside, not that I have ever been in the country at this time of year before, for my father's tasks with the Guild have always kept us in the city.

But there is snow, and there is snow. Bois-de-Bas is buried to the rafters and (in some places) beyond, with only the rooftops and chimneys picking out through the drifts. In some ways this is a good thing; Amelie and I walked to the church this morning through a tunnel in the snow in the easiest possible way, although a blizzard was raging far above our heads. The congregation was tiny, only those of us who live right in the village, and we all of us dispersed to our homes immediately after the service. One wants to be at home, snug, in weather like this. In clear weather we would have gone to the hot springs despite the cold, but the snow tunnels do not extend so far as the hot springs, and the blizzard is too intense.

The shop is quiet, for every household has already acquired the supplies it needs for winter. We have begun to spend our days sitting in the kitchen, to conserve firewood. Only a few people come to our door each day, and those few come to visit rather than to buy. Their visits are welcome! In the larger farms there is no shortage of company through the winter, but households are smaller right here in the village.

For myself, I am enjoying the quiet. Rumors of war are far away; whatever might be happening elsewhere, no commander of sense would bring troops to Bois-de-Bas at this time of year. Amelie and I have continued with her reading lessons. And best of all—next to the delight I take in Amelie—I finally have the leisure to pursue my interest in sky-boats.

I had thought that a small boat, suitable for one or at most two persons, would be a simple thing to form: far simpler than the swarms and layers of forms that surround a great sky-freighter. And that is somewhat true, for a working freighter has aboard it a great many informed devices. But as to the work that makes a sky-ship a sky-ship, a thing that can be maneuvered from place to place through the sky and the Void, it turns out that the difference is mostly one of scale: informing a sky-ship takes great power, which must be provided by a team of formers working in concert. For the largest vessels, it requires a double or treble team, working in shifts. A smallish sky-boat is within the capacity of a skilled former working alone, but it remains a complicated bit of work.

Something the size of a rowboat might be within my capabilities, but I would be a fool to begin there. What if I bungled it, and could not undo what I'd done? A rowboat is a not inconsiderable expense to a shopkeeper in a tiny place like Bois-de-Bas. So I have begun by making a tiny model of a rowboat out of wood from a discarded packing crate. It is a crude little thing, a few scraps glued together and whittled roughly into shape, but sufficient to the purpose.

I handed it to Amelie when it was done, and she turned it over in her hands. "Alors!" she said. "You will have time to do better before the first baby comes."

"Oh, it isn't a toy," I said, taking it from her. "Watch this!" And holding it in my hands I focussed my attention, and imbued it with the first form called for in my grimoire, the form of buoyancy.

I guess I overdid it, for the little boat jerked out of my hands, leaving me with a nice splinter, and slammed into the ceiling of the kitchen.

Amelie watched it go with shining eyes. "Incroyable. Is it that which you wished it to do?"

"Well. Part of it, at least."

That was several days ago, and it is still up there. I brought in a step-ladder from the store room and tried to pull it down and could not: the force of buoyancy is too strong. I can see that I shall have to practice. More than that, I can see that I shall have to build some kind of frame that is anchored to the floor to hold my sky-boat while it is being informed. I shall have to seek help when the time comes.

But for now, models are good enough; and in the deep of winter I have no shortage of time, and surely no shortage of old wooden boxes.

photo credit: Dave_S. Garage via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 9 Decembre 33 AF

Dear Journal,

And so it has happened, though it has taken awhile for me to find time to write about it.

It began nine days ago, when the first great storm of the season came blowing through Bois-de-Bas. It came in the afternoon, just as I was finishing my reading lesson with Amelie, with quick flurries of snow flakes in the shop windows and howling winds that made the roof creak. It continued for three days, after which M. Fabré's designs had been well and truly accomplished.

M. Fabré cocked an ear the moment the winds started to blow, and soon took to his bed; and that night, when it was clear that it would not be safe for me to go to the next house, let alone to Onc' Herbert's farm, he called Amelie and I into his room. It wasn't precisely a blessing he gave us, but I think there was a certain satisfaction in it for him. Then he told me to treat his beloved daughter well, and then he lay back on his pillow and told us to leave him. We didn't, of course. Amelie was by his side all through the night, and I was with her at intervals, bringing tea and holding her hand and such-like.

I think that he had been waiting for this storm, and that he truly planned and expected to die in the night, but in the event he did not. In point of fact, he is sitting across the room from me right now, in a chair by the fire. He is wrapped in a warm robe and and he has a warm drink, and he is listening to Amelie read him one of the simpler of the books he was used to read to her. He is weak, and it is much better for him to spend his days by the fire rather than out in the cold storeroom, but he is still with us. And I think he is content.

I remained at the shop for the three days of the blizzard. The second day was Sonnedi; and as we could not leave the house, Amelie and I promised ourselves to each other standing before the fire in the presence of the Holy Things, and made as merry as we could.

And then I continued to remain at the shop. On the first fine day, Étienne rolled up just as I was preparing to walk to One' Herbert's farm for the rest of my things. (I do not think I have mentioned Étienne's name before, but he is the one who drives Onc' Herbert's wagon to and from Mont-Havre, and who has carried my letters for me.)

He was taking advantage of the fine weather to make his last trip to Mont-Havre for the season, and as he was coming he had my paltry collection of things tucked into a corner of the wagon bed. To my surprise, he also wanted to talk business. Once again it struck me that although my promises to Amelie were as private as private could be, made with only the Lord for witness, they were also wholly public. The whole village was expecting and relying on them, and so it seems that I am now considered fit to conduct business on Amelie's behalf. It was a weighty discovery, and I was much moved.

It so happens that I did in fact have some goods for him to carry to Mont-Havre, and some for him to fetch back if he had room (not least a few possessions I'd left with Madam Truc). And he congratulated me on my good fortune, and didn't tease me when I stepped inside for a moment to confer with Amelie, just to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything.

And then yesterday was Sonnedi come again, and as Amelie had foretold we stood up in front the altar in the church, before the entire population of Bois-de-Bas, and there we made our promises again. There was universal satisfaction, and Onc' Herbert kissed me on both cheeks. After that came Sonnedi dinner at the Tremblay's, for which Marc and Elise joined us. It was a great feast, with many folk I had not yet met by name; and then the hot springs, as usual, at which I am afraid I got far drunker than Drunken Jacques. Every man there wished to drink my health, and clearly expected me to drink it with them, and so I did my best. I do not remember anything of the journey back to the shop, nor anything else until I woke up beside Amelie this morning, aching from my head to my toes. Amelie took good care of me, smiling and speaking quietly, and seeming completely unsurprised about my state, as indeed I'm sure she was—but I think I shall not test her patience (or my head) by drinking like Drunken Jacques next Sonnedi.

And so here I am still, with a warm fire before me and Amelie by my side. And here, it seems, I shall stay. Huzzah!

photo credit: Natalia Medd Avalanche via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 24 Novembre 33AF

Dear Journal,

I received a letter from Madame Truc today. She wrote me the most dreadful news from Mont-Havre, and enclosed a letter from M. Suprenant.

It seems that the new Maréchal of Provençe has gone beyond posturing and has invaded Andaluse; it is said that his sky-ships bombarded the capital of Malague for days before descending so that waves of Provençese troops could spread out and take over the rubble. If he has not yet formally declared war on Cumbria, it is understood to be only a matter of time and tactics.

Worse, he has called upon all Provençese colonies to send arms and men to Provençe to support his war machine. All Mont-Havre in an uproar, and there have been loud words spoken in the Petit Parlement. Some few, a very few, I gather, are in favor of the Maréchal's war aims, usually with some notion of restoring past glories; some others support him in fear of reprisals. But the colonists from Cumbria are uniformly opposed to supporting him, and many of the Provençese speakers agree.

M. Suprenant tells me that M. le Gouverneur has no further interest in me at this time, now that rumors of war are no longer rumors—the man has trouble enough of his own, being seen as a lackey to Toulouse, and will be lucky to keep his position. Good riddance, said everyone in the hot springs this afternoon. A man I later discovered was M. Tremblay said that Armorica should be done with governors, and that it was high time for the Petit Parlement, which was instituted as a way to manage local affairs during the Provençese troubles, to become the Grand Parlement. There was general agreement; Bois-de-Bas, at least, has no use for the Maréchal or his wars, and no great love of the homeland.

As I have discovered in my own case, the hot springs are where matters like this are always hammered out in Bois-de-Bas; and though I was asked above Cumbria's likely response, I was pleased that I was not otherwise singled out, but treated like any other man present. I found the springs doubly warming today.

M. Suprenant said that it would be safe enough for me to return to Mont-Havre at any time; but that he considers it the wiser course for me to remain here in the country, at least for the most part. He has no work for me at present, though he would be glad of my services should commerce regain its past height; and though Armand Tuppenny is of no great interest to the powers that be, recent immigrants from Cumbria might be should Provençese troops come to our shores. Madame Truc said the same: that I might come for a visit, if I were quick, but that I should be much safer where I was. I think he is right; and I think there is a way in which we might all be safer yet.

And now I must close; I must write letters to Madame Truc and M. Suprenant tonight, for I shall not have time tomorrow. Spending my days with Amelie is beyond comparison more delightful than spending them with the goats; but my days are no less long.

Tomorrow I shall visit the church, and light a candle that the Maréchal's war will be put down swiftly. I do not think it will be the only one.

photo credit: public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Letters from Armorica— 21 Novembre 33AF

Dear Jack,

You won't ever read this, because I don't dare send any letters and so I'm writing it in my journal—but I need to tell somebody about what happened today, and explain it to them, so that maybe I'll understand it myself. You're elected, because you're the only one of my correspondents with whom I can speak freely.

Yesterday I was asked to go to the Fabré's shop this morning and begin instructing Amelie Fabré in her letters and in the keeping of books. (Pretend that I've been able to tell you about the Fabrés and their shop, Jack, and about Amelie.) M. Fabré is very unwell, and Amelie will need the instruction to be able to manage the shop when he is gone. I have become a bit fond of Amelie, and wanted to help as best I could. But today didn't turn at all as I had expected.

I presented myself at the shop this morning, having walked the miles from Onc' Herbert's farm, prepared to do my best to begin instructing Amelie. Letters I know, Jack, and even words and sentences and paragraphs, but what I know about the keeping of books is limited to making neat entries in journal ledgers, as I learned to do in the store room at Suprenant et fils. The bookkeeping proper was of course done by the more senior clerks. I was hoping I could pick up a little from M. Fabré himself, and study how the books went together, and maybe Amelie and I could muddle through.

M. Fabré evidently had the same thought, for he was waiting at the counter with a collection of ledgers spread out before him. He looked tired and ill, and not entirely pleased to see me, but he waved me around to his side of the counter and opened one of the books to a page showing a column of names.

As he began to speak he was overcome with a fit of coughing. I pounded him on his back as gently as I could, not knowing what else to do; and then Amelie came, gave me a worried smile, and led him off to his bed. So much for learning from M. Fabré, Jack! So I leafed through the books in front of me as I waited for her to come back, trying to make sense of them.

The first thing I noticed was that the entries were written in three different hands. The earliest entries were in a rounded, stylish hand that might have graced the kinds of invitation I used to receive in Yorke. Then, midway through 28 AF, the entries began to made in a second hand, legible but crabbed and ugly, the hand of a man who did as little writing as possible. But all of the most recent entries, going back perhaps a year, were in a plain, simple hand: tidy, with no pretensions, but easy to read. I looked through all of the ledgers on the counter, which were of divers kinds; all showed the same pattern.

When Amelie emerged from her father's room, she found me seated in an easy chair in their small parlor. She stopped, and studied my face.

"You have been looking at the books, M. Tuppenny."

"Yes, I have," I said. "And I think we need to talk."

"Bon. I shall make tea." She bustled into the kitchen, and returned a few minutes later with a tray on which I found a pot of tea, a small pitcher of milk, a bowl of sugar, and two cups, all in the proper Cumbrian style. I looked up in surprise; I had not seen such a thing since I left Yorke.

She looked up at me from under her eyelashes as she poured. "You are to feel at home, non?" she said.

"Ah. Thank you."

I sat back in my chair and sipped; and if the tea wasn't quite like I would have gotten at my mother's table, it was still better than the harsh, black fluid that passed as tea at Onc' Herbert's. Amelie took her cup and waited for me to speak.

"Your father's note said that you needed to be instructed in bookkeeping and your letters," I said, baldly, "and yet I find that you have been doing all of the bookkeeping for the last year, and doubtless know more about it than I do. It is you who should be teaching me, not I you."

"C'est vrai, M. Tuppenny," she said, nodding. "And I shall—if you wish it."

"But why? Why ask me to come instruct you when you don't need instruction?"

She sipped her tea, and continued to look at her cup as she decided how to answer me. At last she looked up and studied my face for another moment.

"I think you would be happier if I spoke plainly, n'est-ce pas?" she said.

"Yes, I would."

She nodded, and took a deep breath.

"Mon pere, he is dying. I cannot run this shop on my own. It is, how would you say, a two-person task." In that moment her pretty face looked more drawn than ever. I could see the strain of her father's declining health—and the strain of this conversation, which I think wasn't going as she had expected.

And here's where you'll laugh at me, Jack. You, I know, would have swept Amelie into your arms, said all of the comforting words you could think of, made extravagant promises, some of which you might actually have meant, and used the word "lass" a great many times. But me, Jack, I don't have your experience or your easy way with the ladies; and do you know, Jack, I don't believe I want to. So I handled it my own way: business-like, as seemed appropriate to the circumstances.

"And you and your father are trying to recruit me," I said, and she looked up sharply. I smiled a little. "I've known it since I came to help with the inventory, and I'd been suspecting it for weeks before that."

She blushed, hotly, but simply said, "Oui."

"But why me? And why the foolishness about me teaching you?"

She looked surprised.

"But why? To save your pride, of course. It is one thing for you to teach me, but quite another for me to teach you."

"My pride, eh? If I were concerned about my pride I'd have stayed in Yorke." She looked a question at me. "I see I'll have to tell you about it, and sooner rather than later." She nodded. "But again, why me? I know there are many fine-looking young men here in Bas-de-Bois; I see them at the hot springs every week. Me, I'm a stranger, and I have nothing."

"Mon pere, he has always wished for me to marry an educated man." She shrugged. "There are many young men here, but of educated men, none at all. Until you." She looked down, then back up at me. "Mon pere, he has taught my letters well enough to read the labels on the boxes and the names in the ledgers, and he has often read stories to me in the evenings. Mais vraiment, I should like to learn to read them for myself."

"But is that enough? You know nothing of me. I might be a cad, or worse."

"Non!" she said, emphatically. "You are a hard worker," she said. "You do the meanest jobs without complaint, though you are from a fine family in Yorke. You are of the most educated, and you are no farmer. If you are to stay here in Bois-de-Bas, you must have a place, a place better than a cot in the attic of Herbert de Neánt's farm. And you have always spoken to me with kindness."

I thought back to my interview with Onc' Herbert in the back-corner of the hot springs. Oh. Did the whole village know what was going on here? I began to think that they did.

Then she looked at me in such a frank manner that it made me blush. You know how it is at the balls in Yorke, Jack, you've been to enough of them. Both the mammas and the daughters look at us like prime beef, judging of our wealth and consequence. This was something quite different, and much more personal.

"And you are quite handsome enough," she said, and dimpled. "And I—" and here she waved a hand at herself. "Am I not pleasing to you?"

I think I blinked rapidly several times. "Oh, yes," I said and blushed even more furiously.

"And so what is so difficile? Do you not wish to remain in Bois-de-Bas?"

I looked at my tea cup. In fact, I rather thought I did wish to remain. But the whole situation was very odd, Jack.

"This is not at all how it would have been done in Yorke," I said mildly, looking up. "I'm afraid I'm a bit flustered."

"Is it that I am too business-like?" she said, voice rising. "Am I not good enough for you?"

"On the contrary, Mlle. Fabré," I said. "You misunderstand me.

In Yorke I would be attending balls and parties, and all the society mamas would be dangling their daughters in front of me, hoping to make an eligible catch. I'd meet every young lady, all of them dressed in the finest, all of them in their best looks, all of them with their eye on my family's fortune and power. And then, when they were ready, my father and mother would decide which one I'd pick. I never expected to have much of a say in it myself."

And then I looked Amelie in the eye. "Not one of those young ladies would care that I work hard, that I am no grumbler, or that I am educated. Nor would any of them speak to me so frankly." I shrugged, feeling a bit of a fool. "Well, do you know, I think I rather like it." She dimpled again.

Yes, Jack, I can hear you laughing at me. I know, Jack, I'm hopeless.

"Well, then," she said.

"But your father…he doesn't seem to like me very much."

"He likes you well enough. He knows what we are about."

"But would I make you happy?"

"Would you intend to make me happy?" she asked in return.

"I should certainly try."

"Then I think you will succeed, mon cher M. Tuppenny, for you are a hard worker." And she nodded. In that moment she reminded me of Elise speaking to Marc, and I felt a wave of something come over me.

"Let me tell about myself, then," I said, "for I doubt you have heard the full story."

"C'est bon. But for this we will need more tea, and also cakes."

We talked for the rest of the day, with Amelie rising to greet the occasional customer, and in the end it was all decided. I would continue to come every day, and in the mornings she would teach me the books and how to run the shop; and in the afternoons I would work with her to improve her reading, and also to speak Cumbrian (for we had been speaking Provençese all the day).

When I rose to leave, I said, "Now should I speak with your father?"

She shook her head. "He knows."

"Or with the priest—but you have no priest here in Bois-de-Bas. What about the bans?"

"There will be a priest here soon enough, in the spring."

"But—well, the year grows late. If I come every day, one of these days we shall get snowed in, and I shall be forced to overnight here. What about your reputation? I should seem forced to marry you then."

She came to me then, and put her hands on my shoulders, and there was a warm and wicked look in her eyes.

"Mon cher Armand, do you not yet understand? Mon pere, he wanted for me an educated man, but also a gentleman of Provençe. He has said so many times, and all the village knows it. He has refused several offers. So. You will come every day to teach me, to save your pride. And then you will be caught by the snow to save his pride, and the pride of the disappointed young men. And then, well," and she smiled shyly but with a frank promise that made me wish for snow. "And the next Sunday we will stand together in the Church, and in the spring we shall stand before the priest, but we will be married already. And all will have been done decently and in order."

"It all seems quite complicated to me."

She shrugged. "It is a village, Armand," and again I was reminded of Elise Frontenac, who had made the same observation the previous Sonnedi. But she'd said it to prevent me from sitting with Amelie in the church, because then everyone would think—oh. But of course, Elise would have been in on it. Can't have me jumping the gun, Jack, isn't that what you soldiers say?

"So what you're saying is, everyone wants and expects us to marry, but to save everyone's face it has to seem like a necessity."

"Mais oui! Have I not been saying just the same for hours? Sometimes you are very slow, mon cher."

"Things are done quite differently in Yorke," I said, enfolding her gingerly in my arms. "But I think—" and she cocked her head at me, and I kissed her for the first time. "—I think we shall be very happy."

And that, Jack, is how I finally came to be engaged at last. Do neglect to pass it along to my parents, won't you? I can hardly think they'll understand.

Your bemused but delighted cousin,


Letters from Armorica, 20 Novembre 33 AF

Dear Journal,

It looks like my life is changing again. I've been expecting it, more or less, but not so soon.

I went back to my usual routine after helping M. Fabré with inventory at the shop two weeks ago: doing my chores, driving the cart to the village for supplies, and attending divine services, followed by dinner at the Gagnons and the hot springs. The warmth of the hot springs grows ever more pleasant as the weather gets colder, while the walk to and from the hot springs grows ever less so. We have had a bit of snow, but nothing that remains for more than a day or so. Marc tells me that when the snow gets deeper, the younger men delight in climbing out of the hot springs and leaping into snow drifts. He's not looking forward to that any more than I am.

Sonnedi has come and gone twice in that time. The Fabrés were absent from divine services on the first of them, not a good sign, but I saw Amelie and her father on the second. M. Fabré looked more worn than usual, stooped by the cold. Amelie smiled at me across the village square, but she looked tired. I think it is more than age with M. Fabré; I think he is ill, perhaps with some wasting illness.

My eyes followed them as they entered the village church, and Elise, Marc's wife, said to me, "Be careful what you are about."

I looked down at her, walking between Marc and I. "What do you mean?"

"You are thinking of joining them in the church. If you sit with them, everyone will know that you are courting Mlle. Fabré."

"They will? But—"

"Mais oui. And if you were not, then you will be, from the moment you sit down. I hope you have a ring."


"It is a village, Armand. To sit with her in church, that is as good as a promise. And have you spoken of this with M. Fabré? For it would be most impoli to surprise him with such a thing. It would be to presume upon his good wishes."

"Oh. I suppose joining them for dinner after services…."

"In summer, on the green, that is not so strong a statement. But now, when all dine en famille with close friends, and you a newcomer…." She shook her head. "Non, non, I think you must sit with us today." I glanced over her head at Marc, who was hiding a broad smile and carefully not looking at me. "But do not despair, mon cher Armand. For no doubt you will be taking the cart to the village this week and may speak to him then." And she nodded decisively.

I took the cart to the village the day before yesterday, and despite Elise' teasing as I left I did no such thing.

Amelie was at the counter when I entered, looking as tired as I had ever seen her. M. Fabré was nowhere in evidence. Amelie told me he was ill, but that she was sure it would pass. It always had before. She did not seem convinced of it. We loaded the cart in silence, and I helped her with a few things in the storeroom that were beyond her strength, and I came back to the farm.

But a boy came from the village this afternoon, the son of the village smith, with a note from M. Fabré. The boy said that M. Fabré was somewhat improved, but not well, and Mlle. Fabré needed help.

The content of the note was a surprise to me. M. Fabré wanted me to instruct his daughter in the keeping of books, and in her letters. He had done his best, but she would need more if she were to run the shop when he was gone.

I showed the note to Onc' Herbert.

"Bien sur, you must go," he said.

"It will not likely be quick," I said. "I cannot teach her all she will need to know in one day."

"Pas de problème," he said. And as I turned to go he favored me with a slow, ponderous wink.

photo credit: Antique wooden door via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 7 Novembre 33 AF

Dear Journal,

Now that I sit and reflect on the day, I have a feeling that I'm being managed. I'm not sure I like that.

But maybe I do. I suppose I shall have to make my mind up one way or the other, and before too much time has passed.

I was about to go and do battle with the goats this morning, just after dawn, when Marc came and found me. I think Armorican goats must be different than Cumbrian goats. I have never heard anyone utter a word against Cumbrian goats. But these goats, these fiends in bestial form, you must outface them and intimidate them before you can milk them, and if you are wise you wear padded leather armor while you are doing it. It does not help as much as one might think, and I have often longed for steel plate.

But Marc found me before battle was joined, and told me that Unc' Herbert had something else for me to do today: he was sending me into the village.

"If he says so," I said, "Though it isn't the usual day for that," I said. "Could you harness Marguerite while I get out of this stuff?"

"You won't be taking the cart, either," he said, smiling rudely at me. "M. Fabré needs some help today. The cart can't be spared, but…."

"I can," I said. "What's it about?"

"I can't say," he said, grinning even more widely. "Perhaps they have some goats they need tending. Or maybe worse."

"You might make a career in Toulouse with a sense of humor like that," I said, and handed him the milk buckets. I was a little dismayed to see that he took them cheerfully enough. Then I got out of the armor and went and got cleaned up a bit—because you don't get cleaned up before you tend to the goats—and set out to walk the few miles to the village. It would have seemed a long distance back in Yorke; now it was just one more usual walk.

I gave Amelie a brief smile when I entered the shop, but M. Fabré was waiting for me. "Bon.", he said. "It is inventory time, n'est-ce pas?" He didn't look well, more worn than usual, with a pinched look about the eyes.

I thought about the rows of shelves in the back room—very high shelves, some of them.

"Let me guess. You want me to update the ledger while you count the items on the shelves?" I said.

His face darkened a bit. "Non."

I smiled back at him. "I thought not. That's a pity, as I've discovered I'm quite good with ledgers. Where do you want me to start counting?"

That got a snort of surprise, but his face lightened again, and he said, "Bon. This way."

I followed him around the counter, Amelie blushing as I passed, and into the store room at the back.

It was a long day, and long before the end of it I was glad of the hard manual labor I'd been doing at Onc' Herbert's farm. I was up and down ladders and moving boxes and counting items small and large and calling them out to Amelie's father. Some of the boxes—usually on the highest or lowest shelves—looked like they hadn't been touched or dusted in years. By the end of the day I began to wish I'd done more hard manual labor at Onc' Herbert's farm.

Several times I had to stop while M. Fabré had a coughing fit. I wanted to ask him if he'd seen a physician, but there is no real physician in Bois-de-Bas.

We stopped for dinner at midday. The Fabré's home was in the same building as the shop, but to one side rather than above as would have been the case in Yorke or Mont-Havre. Amelie served, and while we ate M. Fabré asked me about my time in Mont-Havre.

I gave them the whole story—working at the docks, living with Madame Truc, keeping inventory ledgers at Suprenant-et-fils. I glossed over some of the details of Jean-Baptiste's adventure as not being fitting for a young lady (and certainly not in the presence of her father), but from her giggles I think she managed to fill in the gaps.

"C'est bon," he said at last, and we rose and went back to work. I made sure to thank Amelie. And then, at the end of the day, I plodded on back to Onc' Herbert's farm, aching in every bone.

Marc was waiting for me. "So," he said. "You look very tired. Were there worse things than goats?"

I thought of Amelie's smile when I said goodbye. "Non," I said. "C'est bon." And then I went to get cleaned up for supper.

photo credit: wuestenigel Happy goat via photopin (license)